Taking the Blame


In the late 1830s and early ’40s Gaetano Donizetti had gone through years of grief and bad health. In 1843 his comic opera Don Pasquale became an instant international success, and a year later Donizetti wrote another opera, Caterina Cornaro. When it failed, he was quick to take the blame. He wrote to a friend:

A fiasco! Then let it be a fiasco! People are saying that the music of Caterina Cornaro is not mine or that I wrote it in my sleep or that I wrote it to wreak revenge against the management. No!

I accept complete responsibility, failure, and blame. Why should I have had somebody else compose it? Perhaps because I did not have enough time? Because I was asleep? Perhaps because it’s not easy for me to work? For revenge? Could I be so ungrateful to a public which has put up with me for so many years?

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No! Maybe genius, experience, and taste deceived me, or maybe I lack them completely. But descend to loathsome things, sleights of hand–never! I would have thought that certain pieces should not have stirred up so much commotion–for example, the duets, the quartet….

But what’s the point of mentioning it now? All I do is to pour out fresh blood from an old wound.

Donizetti was equally forthright in a letter to another friend:

You will have read about the fiasco of my Catarina in Naples? It hurts me a good deal because I thought I had composed something worthwhile. It hurts to lose the effort of a few months, but it’s the same rule for everyone, and I bow my head in humility.

He was in the twilight of his life, but a few months later Gaetano Donizetti would find a triumph in the Naples revival of his operaMaria di Rohan.